Last league fixture of the season was away to champions Campion who had narrowly beaten us (7 - 6) in the opening game of the season. All change for Cantabs having lost fly half to Euan Willder to Japan, and Jack Sykes had sustained ankle ligament damage in training. So, captain Rich Ford lined up with the No 9 shirt on for his first ever game at scrum half! With Ben James and Samisoni Kiddidromo also forced out by injuries from the game against Old Cooperians, and Jon Perks injured in the mid-week county game; youngster Alex Swart-Wilson lined up for his first ever start on the left wing and Henry Taylor joined him on the bench.
So, in 22 matches Cantabs had used no less than 50 players in this injury stricken season. James McCaughran moved to No 10 and it was probably a case of damage limitation from the outset against a team that had only lost one game all season.
Cantabs kicked off against a strong breeze but with the slope to their advantage. Campion started off the stronger with their bulky inside centre dictating the play. However, it was their second row forward that linked with the backs to score under the posts with Cantabs not yet in thier stride. Easy conversion took the score to 7 - 0 after five minutes. The first two scrums both went to Campion, with their No 8 performing miracles at the back of a retreating pack. It took 15 minutes to win the put in at a scrum, and then we were penalised for foot up! Cantabs disputed the decision too vociferously and lost a further 10m.
Finlay Wilson was the first to threaten the Campion 22, linking with his fellow backs to make good ground; but the move came to nothing ultimately. Desperate defence from Cantabs seemed to be repelling the hard-running Campion team, but the cracks had started to appear. 20 minutes gone and Alex S-W retired from the game with a pulled hamstring trying to defend against an attack down the Campion right. Mick made it a double substitution, bringing on Paul and Shane Rea at prop for Jonnie Heaver.
The Campion fly half then ran at our defence and delayed his pass beautifully before throwing out wide to his left to their outside centre, who put the left winger away for a try close to the posts. 14 - 0 to the hosts after 25 minutes.
Campion were so far dictating at the lineout and competing very well in the loose. They definitely seemed to want the game more than Cantabs at this stage.
One good attack from the Cantabs back line made the Campion 22, but lacked support and we were penalised for holding on. Campion went straight back into our half where their elusive No 4 linked well with the backs again to give the Campion No 12 a straight forward chance to run in under the posts; 21 - 0, and Cantabs looking well beaten at this point. That was the final action of the half.
Shane and Jonny swapped over again for the restart. From the kick off, Cantabs now going up the slope, made good progress with the forwards, into the Campion 22. We won a scrum just 10m from the line and Campion could not live with our pack, giving away the penalty. A quick tap penalty saw the ever unstoppable Isaia force his way past three tacklers to touch down wide on the left. No luck with the conversion, but at least we were on the board at 21 - 5.
Now Cantabs forwards were looking to get stuck in and Campion appeared to be in some discomfort as a result. Isaia, Shed and Warren were now taking the game to the home side and they were holding on desperately. Cantabs supporters were willing their team on and despite the healthy lead the home side were now on the back foot.
Rich Ford took a quick tap penalty just outside the Campion 22, brought Isaia in to blast a hole in their defence and Cantabs forwards were now rampant. Three phases later, Rich Ford spun the ball out to the backs and Finn finished off the move diving over to the right of the posts. 21 - 10, with our kick again failing.
Cantabs continued to press, gaining a 5m scrum but were again harshly penalised. Campion broke clear of their half in numbers, Their No 12 again brushed through an attempt to tackle, as if the man did not exist and scored under the posts. 28 - 10, and Campion who had been on the rack, were breathing more easily.
Cantabs continued to take the game to Campion with Irish James time and again kicking with the wind into the left wing corner for good position. From one such penalty kick, Bevan Whyte won the ball cleanly from the resulting throw, and set up the maul. Rich again let the forwards set up good position before moving the ball out wide, and it was Paul that finished off the move to make it 28 - 15.
But, again some weak defending allowed Campion to run the ball at us down the right, again scoring under the posts to put the game out of our reach at 35 - 15.
Cantabs were not to be denied, however, and the power of our forwards earned a penalty and yellow against the Campion No 5 and Rich elected for a 5m scrum. The Campion pack were yet again in total disarray as we pushed them over the line. They broke too soon and the referee awarded a penalty try, which was converted, to make the final score 35 - 22. Just the one bonus point for Cantabs but at least we won the second half and it was fitting that our pack gained the last try of the season.
This result means we finished the season in third place behind Campion and Old Cooperians; an improvement on the previous season. 15 wins and 7 defeats, but with a fully fit squad next season, we can definitely improve yet again. Congratulations to Campion, who fully deserved their second successive promotion.
All through the season, our front five made us unbeatable in the scrum. Dave Evershed at 2nd row was a great find and Rich Ford can look back on three wonderful seasons as captain. And, despite the huge number of currently injured players we still managed to put out three full teams (with subs) yesterday. A tribute to our coaching staff and the general good feeling in the Club at present.
Now our 2nds and 3rds can look forward to competing in two Greene King finals on April 26th to round off the season very nicely.